The last album review for now, though I’m going to post a book review or two now, so there will be some genuine new content on my blog. That hasn’t happened for a while.
These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds (Infectious Music)
This is different to their last album; These New Puritans make that very clear. You can tell it from the album title, art and track names. Contrast Hidden’s ‘We Want War’ with ‘The Light In Your Name’ and you’ll see what I mean. The band have moved away from booming drums and darkness towards something softer. Not any more accessible or less complex, though.
For an album of this complexity, however, you’d expect more emotional depth than what Field Of Reeds offers. The album is bleak and the prevailing mood is restlessness. Woodwind, piano and strings move erratically in and out of the composition on top of ambient noise. Other than ‘V (Island Song)’ and ‘Organ Eternal’ the tracks don’t seem to go anywhere, just shuffle about.
The album is obtuse, so the question needs to be asked: is there the pay-off to reward a listener’s effort? If you appreciated the enigma of their last album then you’ll enjoy that Field Of Reeds also rewards repeated listens. You’ll have to work for your reward, though, as These New Puritans don’t easily give up their secrets and don’t care if you don’t like it.
Unfortunately I think that most people will just find empty fields. I’ll give it another listen, though; maybe I just don’t get it yet.
And yet another from here…
Hugh Laurie – Didn’t It Rain
First thought: oh wow it’s Hugh Laurie.
Second thought: three of the first four tracks are called ‘something blues’.
These are clearly the thoughts of someone who hasn’t listened to much blues or jazz, but many people who listen to this album aren’t going to be well versed in American blues; they just saw Hugh Laurie on the cover. And, if you’re looking for an introduction to some American musical styles, having him give you a hand surely can’t hurt.
It’s a surprise then when the vocals begin nearly three minutes into the opening track sung by Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno. There are a quite a few guest singers on the album and their different styles add a nice variety to the tracks. Just because this is Hugh Laurie’s project doesn’t mean it’s a chance for him to show off. He often takes the back seat to the guests and Copper Bottom Band. It’s more like a collaborative album with Hugh Laurie in than an album of Hugh Laurie.
Didn’t It Rain takes you on a journey through American music that visits a cross-section of different styles. Calling it beginner-friendly might be reductive, but it serves as a good introduction to American jazz and blues. Those interested would do well to start here.
Album review number 4. You can also see it here.
Magic Arm – Images Rolling (Switchflicker/Peacefrog)
What’s the most productive thing you’ve ever done while moving house? My guess would be actually managing to move house. That would be enough for most people. Magic Arm’s sole member, multi-instrumentalist Marc Rigelsford, used the time to make an album, setting up a studio in his new house as its occupants moved out. Not that you’d tell from listening to it; Images Rolling is full of layered nuances. You’d expect the band to be at least five or six members strong.
The music itself has a sense of empty space created by low-key piano, violin, synth and vocals. You can imagine empty rooms waiting to be filled. Not always waiting with optimism, though. ‘I want a great life’ is the simple chorus for ‘Great Life’, but Marc Rigelsford doesn’t sound too hopeful about that. His flat vocals accentuate that, and continue in a similar way for the rest of the tracks.
This isn’t a gloomy album, however. In ‘Tonight I Walk’ the melancholy lyrics ‘tonight I walk alone/each and every step leaves me wanting more’ are contrasted by more optimistic music, while the opening track ‘Put Your Collar Up’ constantly surprises you with changes.
Overall the album is a subtle and compelling listen, something well worth spending some time with.
This review was first published here on outlineonline.co.uk.
Screaming Maldini – Screaming Maldini (HipHipHip)
Screaming Maldini’s debut LP takes quirkiness to dangerous levels. ‘Life in Glorious Stereo’ approaches Disney soundtrack territory with lyrics like ‘These city walls are echoing with the song of the Earth / Life in glorious stereo is wonderful’, while on ‘Secret Sounds’ the band try their best kookaburra impressions.
Overall the album has the feel of a festival. It’s relentlessly upbeat and almost every song has a ‘whoa-oh’ or three to sing along to. Opening track ‘The Awakening’ certainly lives up to its name, setting a pace for the album that never slows down for long. With its rapid-fire lyrical delivery and wall of sound guitars and synth it is a hectic track. Like a festival there are all sorts of different noises going on in this wall of sound; the band often take a ‘play all the instruments loudly at the same time’ approach.
All this upbeat quirkiness can get a bit grating. Or maybe I’m the only one who finds the song title ‘I Know That You Know That I Would Wipe Away The Snowflake From Your Eyes’ annoying? (For one thing, it would have to be a pretty big snowflake to be in both of your eyes). Actually, that probably is just me. If you’re in the neighbourhood for feel-good summer silliness with trumpets, try this album.
Another album review, originally posted here.
Dr Scardo – Dark Dog Days (Resonator Records)
Subtlety is not something you often find in politically-inclined bands, and Dr Scardo are no exception. Right out of the gate that sets up Dark Dog Days as an album that many people won’t need to even listen to in order to dislike. If you think Margaret Thatcher was a great prime minister who did What Needed To Be Done for Britain then this will not appeal to you, possibly no matter how big a fan of contemporary alternative rock you are.
If the political and social commentary isn’t a problem then Simon Scardanelli’s latest band project are definitely worth a listen. Funky bass lines, judicious use of synth and the occasional big chorus make for compelling listening. The songs edge a bit on the long side but at eight tracks the album delivers its message without labouring the point. Lyrics vary between incisive to overdone (“Costa not fucking coffee and Starsucks”… Starsucks? Really?) but are generally insightful or brutally honest.
While ‘Leave Us Alone’ and ‘End of the World’ make good singles, the most representative song is the nine-minute title track. The band lay down a groove over which Scardanelli delivers half-sung social commentary. It finishes with the gem “Thatcher’s ghostie stalks the corridors of power and she’s not even dead yet”. Unfortunate timing, perhaps, but I don’t think Dr Scardo will mind too much.
This is a review I wrote some time ago for outlineonline.co.uk, here. I’ve actually posted the review on this blog already but the way it was formatted was really annoying so I’m reposting it. Look for more music and book reviews being posted soon!
Team Ghost / Rituals (w-Sphere)
Rituals for what? I’m not sure but it’s probably something sinister. There are certainly a few kinds of ghost lurking in this album and I don’t think many of them are friendly. ‘Somebody’s watching/it turns me on’ sing the lyrics to ‘Somebody’s Watching’. At its best the album is gothic shoegaze that drives along with a fierce energy that never quite reaches a catharsis, while at its worst it sags into pure atmospherics. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but tracks like the opener ‘Away’, ‘Curtains’ and the excellent ‘Dead Film Star’ achieve the atmosphere of a haunted house while channelling the energy of a poltergeist. Other tracks are haunted by more passive-aggressive ghosts, the kind that leave messages with fridge magnets like an irritated flatmate.
After a great start the album slows down for a few tracks and then explodes with guitar noise at the end of ‘All We Left Behind’. It tries to do what the opening track did but not quite so well. You put all of your best songs in the first half of the album guys. And yes, everyone does that, but the end result is an album of really good, atmospheric songs that begins to fade out around the half-way point. A bit like white noise, but not the regular sort: the stuff from that film, with ghosts in the static.
A friend recently sent me a link to a cool little tumblr site called FlashFrights. Flash fiction? Horror? It’s the perfect combination, like garlic and bread. They only post stories that are two sentences long. I wrote one called ‘Home Alone’ and they posted it. It’s a two sentence version of ‘Responsibility’, a story I wrote a while ago for Naflafiwrimo (here).
Here’s the site and here’s my story.
Restriction breeds creativity and I like this restriction. I’m going to try to write some more!
I was involved recently in a project called 26 for Norwich, in which 26 writers from 26.org.uk teamed up with 26 students and graduates from UEA to research 26 different writers from Norwich. I worked with Jane Chittenden to research Mary Mann, a writer who is criminally under-appreciated. CRIMINALLY. Someone needs to be arrested. Jane wrote about her, and you can read that here.
I wrote a story inspired by Mary Mann and the time Jane and I spent in the archives in Norwich looking through her old letters, photos and manuscripts. Of course, as Mann wrote stories about rural Norfolk life around 1890-1920, based on the stories of people who lived around her, mainly poverty-stricken farmers, I decided to write a sci-fi story.
You can read it on the website for the project, along with loads of other stuff inspired by writers from Julian of Norwich to Ian McEwan.
It’s called Built to Last, have a look here.
FLY Festival being the Festival of Literature for Young People (Festival). I’m helping out with a workshop on how to create and run a WordPress blog. So this is a post about that. Yes. I’ll probably update this as we go…
Day two and we’re onto more complicated stuff, sorting out pages and so on. More updates as we go…
Day three is going well
A really cool poet by the name of Tim Clare does a weekly blog post called ‘Death of 1000 Cuts’, and this week he picked the first page of my very unfinished novel Deity to subject to a kind dusting of criticism delivered in warm, cooing tones.
Tim’s a really good performance poet, listen to him here. He also plays ukulele and likes sci-fi, video games and editing fiction, so he’s like me but about thirty levels higher.
Read what he has to say here. Key phrases include: ‘readers enjoy being strangers in strange lands’, ‘this is fundamentally good writing practice’ and ’this is not of a publishable standard’.
Thanks Tim! I’m feeling motivated now, maybe I will give Camp Nano a go this month…